Lonny Donny scans the gravel of the broad turnout beside the interstate. Jammed with trucks a few hours ago, it's nearly empty at daybreak. Everything's wet, thinks Lonny Donny, even the air. But it's not raining. This is a California winter? It's not near as bad as snow and ice.
Lonny Donny walks back to the van, which is parked well off the freeway. Inside the van, Stan's asleep on the traveling davenport. Lonny Donny opts to take the last driving shift into Los Angeles. Next stop, Hollywood, thinks Lonny Donny without the slightest bit of sarcasm. He steers the van back onto the freeway and down the hill.
Lonny Donny wonders what has transformed his brother Chuck. He's smiling, laughing -- you might think he's happy. They're even playing a game of pick up sticks, a game Lonny Donny has never played before. Chuck's roommates, Randall and Eleanor, take the game very seriously.
"Heard you took a walk today," Chuck says to Lonny Donny as Eleanor deftly pries a stick loose.
"You weren't here, so," Lonny Donny replies.
"I was on location," Chuck says flatly.
"Your brother's got a speaking part," Randall says as he lights a joint. "Screen credit and all." Randall offers the joint to Lonny Donny. He shakes his head. Randall holds it out to Chuck, who is attempting to lift a stick off the pile. Chuck ignores Randall's outstretched arm, so Randall takes another hit.
"What happened to Stan?", Chuck asks, eyes still locked on the pile.
"He went looking for a car wash," Lonny Donny replies.
"That's some rig he has," Chuck says. "How big is that gas tank? Fifty-some gallons?" Chuck flubs a stick in the pile, so he takes the joint from Randall.
Eleanor scoots closer to the pile. "Watch a master at work," she says.
Chuck takes a long look at his brother. "You'll do fine in the back house," he tells Lonny Donny. "No heat, but plenty of heavy blankets." As Eleanor whittles down the pile of sticks, Chuck asks, "Did Stan mention when he plans to head up to Vallejo?" Lonny Donny just shrugs. Chuck frowns. "Well, did he say anything about why he's not in the Air Force?"
"Yep," says Lonny Donny. "Made like he was nuts."
"Is he nuts?", Randall asks.
"No," Lonny Donny replies. "Just delusional, same as everybody."
Eleanor laughs so hard she scatters the pile.
"I guess that's game," Randall says as he stands and walks to the stereo to turn over the record. Eleanor returns the sticks to their jar. Chuck leans back in his chair. "I leave early for the location," he tells Lonny Donny. "You won't see much of me 'til the Saturday morning."
"Stan wants me to go with him somewhere tomorrow," Lonny Donny says. "But I'd rather take another walk around here. Enough of Stan's van."
"Sure," Chuck tells his brother. "Get to know the neighborhood. Check out the Reading Room on Hollywood. Just don't loiter on Selma, okay?"
"What's wrong with Selma?", Lonny Donny asks.
His brother hesitates. "It's like," Chuck begins.
Randall interrupts. "It's for cruising."
"Like Telegraph?", Lonny Donny asks.
"Not that kind of cruising," Randall says.
Chuck adds, "There's no street like Selma back in Dogbone."
"Sure there is," Eleanor says as she lights the dormant joint. "There's streets like Selma everywhere. Big towns, small towns." She hits it. As she holds the smoke in her lungs, Eleanor squeaks to Lonny Donny, "Male prostitutes." She exhales in a rush. Lonny Donny nods slowly.
"Welcome to Hollywood," Randall says and spreads his arms dramatically. "Bring us your hopes and dreams. We'll destroy every blessed one."
"You speaking from experience?", Eleanor asks Randall.
"You're the only one I dream about," he replies and slowly snuggles up next to her.
"Don't get your hopes up," Eleanor says with a light laugh.
"Something's up, besides my hopes," Randall says.
Lonny Donny gets to his feet.
"Let's get you settled out back," Chuck says to Lonny Donny as he stands up. "Stan's gonna bunk in his van, if he ever gets back, that is."
"Who's the kid?", the woman asks as she puts her bags down. Lonny Donny stands up and drops the book he's reading. He's been in California for two weeks and has barely traveled more than six blocks from the house on Leland Way.
Chuck follows the woman into the house. "That's my brother," Chuck says. "The one I told you about."
"He's just a kid!", she says. "How old are you, kid?", she asks Lonny Donny.
"Nineteen," Lonny Donny replies.
"That can't be," she says, looking closely at his face.
"Nineteen," Lonny Donny repeats.
Chuck says, "Yep."
"My God," she says, shaking her head. "You could be twelve."
"C'mon," says Chuck. "He can pass for sixteen, easy."
The woman walks away, still shaking her head. After she enters the bathroom and shuts the door, Chuck turns to Lonny Donny and says, "Betty." Then he heads back out the front door.
Lonny Donny stands in the middle of the living room. Billie Holiday is singing "Sun Showers" on the stereo. Betty walks out of the bathroom. "Did you put this record on?", Betty asks him. Lonny Donny nods. "You got good taste, kid," she says, listening. "It's one of my favorites. Why don't you prove you're more of a gentleman than your brother by carrying my bags to the bedroom?" Lonny Donny jumps to it.
After he sets Betty's bags just inside the bedroom door, Lonny Donny looks at the bed and asks, "You and Chuck?"
"In his dreams," she says. "Chuck's in the bunkhouse 'til my place in Santa Monica is ready." Betty looks around the bedroom. "Which I hope is tomorrow."
Lonny Donny doesn't have to ask: Betty's an actress. She has an aliveness, a spotlight-ness, a fill-up-the-stage-ness. Curvy, athletic, attentive. "Good night, kid," she says and starts to shut the bedroom door. She stops and adds, "Turn up the music, will ya?" Lonny Donny nods once.
Hours later, Lonny Donny is staring at the ceiling of the back house, thinking about Betty. The back house is a converted one-car garage. A huge bed nearly fills the space. Randall told Lonny Donny it's a California king. He laughed when Lonny Donny replied, "Room for three."
Eleanor and Randall got home not long after Betty retired to the bedroom. They responded in unison to news of Betty's arrival: "Oh, shit!" Lonny Donny wanted to ask Chuck's housemates about Betty, but they retreated to their bedroom only a few minutes after they returned home.
Lying on his back, lost in the vastness of a California king bed, Lonny Donny can't stop one question from circling in his head: Betty who? Lonny Donny dreams he's asleep. In his dream, he wakes up to sunlight so bright in the window it sets the chintzy, dusty curtains on fire.
The flaming curtains become glittering Christmas decorations, then they morph into footlights as the window is transformed into a stage set. Lonny Donny fights to stay asleep long enough for the play to start. He's sure Betty is in the cast. Then the question returns: Betty who?
Opening one eye a fraction, Lonny Donny sees only a dim gray. The poster on the wall of the old-time baseball player is a dusky rectangle. Lonny Donny rouses himself, gets dressed, and ambles from the back house to the kitchen, where Eleanor and Randall are sitting in silence. Lonny Donny walks to the bathroom, but the door is closed. "She's been in there all morning," says Eleanor. "See if you can get her out."
Lonny Donny puts his head near the closed bathroom door and asks quietly, "Betty?"
The door swings open and Betty asks, "You busy today?"
"No," Lonny Donny says, blinking rapidly.
"What's with the eyes?", Betty asks.
"You surprised me," Lonny Donny answers.
Betty smiles at him. "I get that a lot," she says. She walks to her bedroom. "Do your business," she says, indicating the bathroom, "then we'll get rolling."
"What's your last name?", Lonny Donny asks her.
"Watt," she replies.
"I said, what's your last name?", he repeats.
"That's right" she says. "And Who's on first."
"What?", Lonny Donny asks.
Betty enters her bedroom and closes the door, still smiling. Lonny Donny studies the door for a minute, then he does his business, as told.
"Santa Monica," Betty says when Lonny Donny slides into the driver's seat. The seat is adjusted so far forward his knees press against the dashboard. Lonny Donny hits the seat lever and it zooms all the way back with a clunk. Betty tsks and says, "Sometime today, kid. What do you say?"
Lonny Donny looks at the gear shift. "You drive a stick, right?", Betty asks.
"'Course I do," he replies. He searches around the dashboard. "Which one is the ignition?" Betty points to it. He turns the key. "Which one is first?", he asks next.
"Like I said," Betty says, "Santa Monica."
Lonny Donny puts his hand on the gear shift and says, "I mean, which one of these is first gear?"
"You know which is the clutch?", Betty asks.
"The one on the left," Lonny Donny replies.
"You work the clutch," says Betty. "I'll shift."
Lonny Donny steps on the clutch. Betty shifts into first with her left hand. He hits the gas and lets out the clutch. "Okay, kid" she says. "Left on Highland." Lonny Donny pushes in the clutch, and Betty shifts into second. "To the 10," she adds as Lonny Donny stops at the light.
"One, two, three, four," Betty says and pantomimes shifting the gears. "Don't worry about reverse," she adds. "We won't be going backwards."
"Speak for yourself," Lonny Donny tells Betty as he grabs the gear shift. "I still don't know your last name."
"Do so," says Betty.
"What's your name?", Lonny Donny asks again.
"See?", says Betty, "Told you."
"You didn't tell me anything."
"Didn't have to," says Betty laughing.
This is crazy, thinks Lonny Donny as he grinds the car's gears down Highland. She says I know her name, but nobody told me, or even had to.
The 10 slows to a crawl when they reach Santa Monica. Lonny Donny is too shy to ask where they're going. "Take the PCH north," says Betty. They don't travel far up the PCH before Betty points to a driveway on the left side of the road and says, "Turn there." Lonny Donny does so.
They pull into a parking lot along the beach. Betty points Lonny Donny toward the corner of the lot that's closest to Santa Monica Pier. Lonny Donny parks the car next to a van that has wood-shingle siding, a pitched roof, and a chimney. "Ten minutes," says Betty furtively.
An hour later, a man in a Japanese robe and sandals walks up to Lonny Donny, who's still sitting in the car, and hands him a glass of water. "Drink up, kid," the man says. "You're going to be here awhile." He turns and walks back the way he came. "Take a walk, maybe," he adds over his shoulder.
Lonny Donny looks across the beach at the low line of waves rolling in. He drinks half the glass of water and then sets it on the dashboard.
Ten minutes later the waves are lapping gently around Lonny Donny's bare feet. He tries to make out the horizon through the gray ocean haze. "What's out there?", Lonny Donny says. He can't take his eyes off the ocean.
"Water," a voice behind him replies. "Lots and lots of water."
Lonny Donny turns. Betty's looking at the ocean over his shoulder. "I thought I was talking to myself," he says.
"Hazy today," Betty says. Lonny Donny looks back at the ocean. Now all he sees is haze. He looks back at Betty, who's frowning at the mist. "Show's over," she says.
"C'mon," Betty says as she turns and heads for the parking lot. "We're late." Lonny Donny watches her glide along the sand, her shirt billowing in the breeze.
"Late for what?", Lonny Donny asks when he catches up with Betty just before they reach the parking lot.
"Gotta grab it before he gets home at four," she says.
Lonny Donny looks at his Timex watch. "It's 1:15," he says.
"I know" Betty replies. "We'll just make it. You know how to drive fast, kid?"
Lonny Donny heads south on the PCH. He's about to ask where they're going when Betty says, "You'll like La Jolla. It's your kinda town."
"How do you know what kinda town I'll like?", Lonny Donny asks.
"Kid," Betty says, rummaging furiously in her bag, "I know all about you."
Lonny Donny can't decide whether Betty knowing all about him is a good thing or bad thing. They enter the freeway. Lonny Donny drives fast. So fast they're motoring the La Jolla Parkway by 3:30. Betty directs Lonny Donny to Pearl Street. "There," she says, pointing to an alley.
Fifty yards later, the alley dead ends. "Turn the car around and wait here," Betty says as she exits. "I'll be back in 10 minutes, tops."
Ninety minutes later, Lonny Donny makes his mind up to go looking for Betty. As he gets out of the car, he hears two people arguing loudly. Whoever Betty was arguing with has disappeared by the time Lonny Donny gets there. "Give me a hand with these, will ya, kid?", she asks him.
Lonny Donny picks up both suitcases and follows Betty to the car. "Damn Hockney," she says under her breath as they walk. "Goddamn Hockney."
"He the guy doing the yelling?", Lonny Donny asks.
"What? No," says Betty. "My painting. Says he'll pay. Don't want money. Want my Hockney." She stomps back to the car.
"Okay, kid, back to Santa Monica," Betty says as Lonny Donny puts her bags in the back seat. "Whit should be moved into his truck by now."
Lonny Donny has a long list of questions for Betty, but he says nothing until they stop for gas at a station just off the San Diego freeway. Lonny Donny finishes filling up the tank as Betty returns from the minimart with a diet 7 Up in each hand. "What am I doing here?", he asks.
"I needed a driver," Betty replies. "And you weren't doing anything." She hands Lonny Donny one of the sodas. "I got a car I can't drive. I'll pay you the going rate," Betty adds. "Fifty dollars a day, plus expenses, plus a bonus for overtime. You got any better offers, kid?"
Lonny Donny takes a sip of the soda and then throws the can in the trash next to the gas pump. "No diet pop," he says.
"Deal" says Betty.
"It's soda out here, by the way." Betty says once they're back on the freeway heading north.
"What?", Lonny Donny asks.
"No pop," she repeats. "Soda." Betty sees the look of confusion on Lonny Donny's face. "In California, pop is called 'soda'" she says. "You're not in Dogbone anymore."
By the time they get back to Santa Monica, the gray day has given way to a grayer night. Lonny Donny pulls into the parking spot they left six hours earlier. "C'mon," says Betty as she gets out the car. Lonny Donny follows her. Betty turns around and says, "The bags, will ya, kid?" She walks away.
Lonny Donny lugs Betty's bags across the parking lot toward the townhouses lining the beach. He rounds the corner -- not a soul in sight. Lonny Donny looks up and down the row of beach houses. Only two of the ten or so townhouses have lights visible. He stands in front of one.
"What are you doing, kid?", Betty shouts from the doorway of the only other house with lights on. "Get in here. We'll be late for dinner."
Not what I expected, thinks Lonny Donny as he sets Betty's bags on the floor and looks around. There's little furniture and few decorations. A large Japanese movie poster faces the front door. Lonny Donny is entranced by three large, red characters; the rest is in black and white.
"Had the same effect on me, kid," says Betty. She's standing behind Lonny Donny, regarding the poster. "That's why I told Whit to leave it."
"Whit was the guy with water?", Lonny Donny asks.
"What guy with the water?", Betty asks back.
"He said, 'take a walk,' so I took a walk."
"That sounds like Whit," Betty says. "Silk robe? Sandals?" Lonny Donny nods twice. "That's his log-cabin-on-wheels in the lot," she adds. Betty snorts. "Calls himself a mobile artist. He's mobile, so I guess he's half right. You gonna leave those bags here, kid?"
Lonny Donny totes Betty's bags into the room she indicates, one of the townhouse's two bedrooms. In it is a large, low bed and nothing else. What is it with California and big beds?, thinks Lonny Donny as he sets the bags down. "We leave in five minutes," says Betty. "Go drink."
Betty shoos Lonny Donny out of the room. "Drink?", he asks, looking confused.
"You're dehydrated," says Betty. "I can tell by your aura." Lonny Donny looks even more confused. "Two big glasses of water," Betty says. "I'll find you a shirt. That one goes back to Goodwill tomorrow."
I am kinda thirsty, thinks Lonny Donny as he looks for the kitchen. He's not sure how he feels about having an aura that Betty can sense. Lonny Donny finds the kitchen, then a glass, then the faucet. He thinks as he drinks, Betty's right about my ratty old Goodwill shirt, too.
As he refills his glass at the faucet, Lonny Donny thinks, pieces of me have been dropping off since we left Dogbone. What's gonna be left? Betty walks into the kitchen holding a shirt. "Put this on," she says, handing it to Lonny Donny.
He holds the shirt up by its shoulders. "This is a girl's shirt," he says.
"It's a shirt," Betty replies. "The biggest one I could find." Lonny Donny squints and frowns. He scans the shirt as if he's looking for something to like about it. "Look, kid," says Betty, "put the shirt on, eh? I'm hungry."
Lonny Donny does as Betty instructs him. Then he regards himself in the bathroom mirror. He is displeased with who he finds staring back. The shirt print is a mix of flowers, fruit, and asymmetrical patterns in a dozen colors.
"You're getting excited over nothing," Betty tells Lonny Donny. "Nobody will even notice you. They're show people. They'll barely notice me. Especially if there's a mirror in the room."
"If they're gonna ignore us," Lonny Donny asks, "why go at all?"
"I didn't say they'd ignore us," Betty says. "We just don't matter to them. They'll be nice enough, and very friendly." Betty jabs Lonny Donny in the shoulder playfully. "We're going for the food. And the gossip, of course."
I am kinda hungry, thinks Lonny Donny as he puts on the flowery shirt he got from Betty. The sleeves are short, but it's not such a bad fit. Betty gives Lonny Donny and the shirt a long look. She rolls up the sleeves to his elbow, steps back, and looks again. "Not bad," she says.
"C'mon, kid" Betty says as she heads for the door. "We'll be late for the mock turtle soup." Lonny Donny follows her, happy to be not bad.
"Fifty bucks a day?", Chuck asks, "Did I hear right?"
"Plus expenses," Lonny Donny adds. They drove back to Chuck's place on Leeland Way after the dinner party so Lonny Donny could pick up his backpack. Betty stands in the front doorway, looking bored.
Chuck says to Betty, "You're hiring my kid brother as your driver?" Betty ignores him.
"She says you should talk to me," Lonny Donny says.
"He just got here," Chuck says to Betty, who continues to ignore him.
"She says I'm better off with her than with you," Lonny Donny says.
"What do you say?", Chuck asks Lonny Donny.
"Yes," he replies.
"Yes what?", Chuck asks his brother.
"Yes please?", he answers. Betty smiles.
Chuck tells his little brother, "You may think you know what you're getting into, but you don't."
"I know I don't know," says Lonny Donny.
Betty laughs. "That puts him one up on you, Chuck," she says. "The kid knows he doesn't know. You don't know twice as much as he doesn't."
Chuck looks confused. Lonny Donny wonders whether Betty just gave him a compliment. "C'mon, kid," Betty says. "Grab your gear. It's been a long day."
"You can't just take my brother," Chuck tells Betty. "You said yourself he's just a kid."
"And you're on location in Ventura County for a month," Betty says. "That's 15 hours a day, six days a week. Post-production's another week. And the kid's on his own all that time. You ever think of that?"
Chuck shrugs. "I didn't know I'd be workin' when I told him to come out," he says. "I thought he and me could get work as extras, maybe."
Lonny Donny carries his backpack out the front door. Betty follows him. "He's supposed to help get Stan to Vallejo," Chuck yells as they leave.
Betty turns around and tells Chuck, "Not getting him to Vallejo is the best thing anyone ever did for Stan. He'll thank the kid someday."
Lonny Donny puts his backpack in the trunk and gets in the driver's seat. Betty says, "C'mon, kid. Get this rig rolling. Big day tomorrow."
"You gonna sleep all day, kid?", Betty asks as she enters the townhouse's small second bedroom and opens the blinds. Lonny Donny rubs his eyes. "Get yourself cleaned up. We leave in a half-hour. I'm gonna find you some clothes."
"Leave for where?", Lonny asks.
"Meeting with my agent, if I still have an agent," Betty says.
"Right on Sunset," she instructs Lonny Donny. "When you see a palm tree, park."
Lonny Donny drives three miles east on Sunset before he spots a short, sagging palm tree on the right side of the road. "Palm!", he shouts.
"Park!", Betty shouts back, pointing to a spot at the curb that was just vacated. Lonny Donny guides Betty's car smoothly into the space. "Wait here," Betty tells Lonny Donny. "I'll have Rica bring you down a pop."
"You mean a soda?", Lonny Donny asks. Betty slams the door.
Ten minutes later, a young woman taps on the passenger window. Lonny Donny reaches over and cranks the window down. She holds up a bottle. "We only got beer," the woman says. She waves the bottle. "You want a straw?", she asks, waving one in her other hand. Lonny Donny freezes.
"Please stop waving," Lonny Donny says finally. The woman freezes. "I'll take the straw," he says after another pause. "I can't drink beer."
"Why can't you drink beer?", the woman asks.
"I'm not old enough" Lonny Donny replies.
"You're old enough to drive, right?" She smirks. Lonny Donny nods. "I thought that was, like, the same thing," the woman says. "Anyway, I've been drinking beer since, man, I don't know when." The woman takes a long pull on the bottle. "Anyway," she says, "my name's Rica, like Patrica but shorter." She pauses, then gets in the car.
"I really don't want to go back up right now," Rica says. "You sure you don't want some beer?" Lonny Donny shakes his head. "It could get ugly," she adds. "Betty screws up, but Howie can't lose her. She's his meal ticket. Poor guy's down to two cars and one leg."
"Speaking of meal tickets," Rica continues, "I could use a waffle. You want a waffle? Howie's treat. I know this great place on La Cienega."
"I'm supposed to wait here for Betty," Lonny Donny says.
"Betty's gonna be awhile," says Rica. "She walked away from a chunk of change. Howie's gonna take it out of her perfect behind." Rica pauses. "Not really. Howie's not like that. And Betty is for sure not like that."
Rica taps Lonny Donny's arm. "I mean," she says, "Howie's gonna make Betty squirm for at least an hour, then he'll tell her to do the show. And she'll have to," Rica continues without taking a breath, "because Howie needs the money and Betty needs him, plus it's only a week."
"Some dumb detective show," Rica goes on without a pause. "No one will see it, which is the real reason Betty doesn't want to do it, I bet. So, are we going?", Rica asks.
"What?", Lonny Donny replies.
"Waffles," Rica says. "Betty said you're sharper than you look. I'm not so sure."
"What happened to waiting in the car?", Betty asks Lonny Donny as she exits Howie's office.
"We went for breakfast," Rica says. "On Howie."
Lonny Donny stands up from the rickety chair, one of three in the small waiting area next to Rica's desk. "Where to next?", he asks Betty.
"Lunch," Betty replies. "On Howie." She holds her hand out to Rica, who opens a drawer, removes a $100 bill, and places it in Betty's hand.
In the car five minutes later, Lonny Donny asks, "Lunch?"
"Lunch?", Betty repeats. "You just ate, and I have to lose five pounds by Monday."
"Besides," Betty continues, "the day I have to buy my own lunch in this town is the day I head back to Fenton." She shakes her head. "Burbank," she says.
"What about the $100 Rica gave you?", Lonny Donny asks.
"Cab fare," Betty replies. "Agent pays, it's in my contract, or should be, anyway."
Lonny Donny heads east on Sunset. "Burbank?", he asks.
"I know," says Betty, "but what could I do? Howie has to pay my lawyer by the 15th."
"I mean," Lonny Donny says, "how do I get there?"
"Getting there's easy," Betty replies. "Get on the 101 North and follow the Cadillacs."
"Okay, the first thing you gotta know," Betty says as they walk through a maze of identical two-story buildings, "is don't believe anybody." Betty leads Lonny Donny into one of the buildings. "Second," she says, "Oh, screw it. Let's go." She bolts through a half-opaque-glass door.
"Betty Watt!", Lonny Donny hears a man say as he enters the small office behind her.
"Eddie," Betty says with false enthusiasm. "Long time, eh?"
"Thought you were...", Eddie says.
"Yeah," Betty replies, "Me too."
"Who's the little hippie?", Eddie asks without looking at Lonny Donny.
"Just a kid I'm looking after for his asshole half-brother," Betty replies. "Can we make this quick?"
Eddie opens a door to a back room. "You know the drill," he says as he holds the door open for Betty.
"Thirty minutes, kid", Betty says to Lonny Donny. "Forty-five tops."
Before he follows Betty through the door, Eddie says to Lonny Donny, "Two hours at least. Why don't you check out the commissary?" He winks.
"Commissary," Lonny Donny says to himself. He looks at the door leading outside like he's expecting somebody to walk in. He stands slowly.
Lonny Donny is only a half-dozen steps from the building when he begins to feel disoriented. He looks for signs, sees only more buildings. Lonny Donny wanders around the identical buildings, looking for "Commissary." He turns a corner and nearly trips over a woman on the ground.
"Hey," Lonny Donny says and then stops when he sees the woman sitting on the ground is crying. He reaches down and helps her to her feet.
The woman puts her arms around Lonny Donny and cries on his shoulder. "I don't know coffee!", she says between sobs.
Lonny Donny freezes. Awkwardly he pats the crying woman on the back. "That's okay," he tells her. "I don't know coffee either."
"See?", she replies. The woman looks Lonny Donny in the face, smiling through her tears. "It's not just me," she says. Lonny Donny thinks, she's about my age. "Coffee's hard," the woman continues. "And that man said some very not nice things to me." She pouts, hugs Lonny Donny closer. He loosens.
"Just because he didn't like your coffee?", Lonny Donny asks.
The woman shakes her head. "I can't talk about it," she says. "It's too soon." After a pause, she asks, "Can you take me home?"
"I'm waiting for Betty," he replies. "She's getting wardrobed, somewhere." He looks around.
"Can I wait with you at least?", she asks with another pout.
"Sure!", Lonny Donny nearly shouts. "The guy told me to go to the commissary."
"Yuck," the woman says. "You do NOT want to go there." She takes Lonny Donny's hand. "I know a better place." She leads him around a corner. "Marta, in case you're wondering," the woman says as they meander around the back lot.
"In case I'm wondering what?", Lonny Donny asks.
"My name?", Marta replies a little sarcastically.
"Oh yeah," Lonny Donny says, turning red. "I'm Lon--", he hesitates.
"Like the monster guy?", Marta asks. "Cool!"
"Yeah," Lonny Donny says, trying to hide his confusion.
Marta opens a door on one of the many nondescript buildings and motions him inside. Lonny Donny enters the pitch-black room. Marta follows him in and switches on the light. "What do you want?", she asks. "Don't say coffee."
"I mean," Marta says as she rests her feet on a small coffee table, "I know I have to start somewhere. But why the bottom?" Lonny Donny shrugs. "Isn't that where you end up?", Marta continues. She's slouched in one of the two small sofas facing each other on either side of the table. The only other piece of furniture in the small, windowless room is the low-slung armchair Lonny Donny is sitting in. He smiles at Marta.
"Why not start in the middle and go up from there? Then you can crash and burn," Marta says.
Lonny Donny stands up and shouts, "Betty!"
"Who?", Marta asks.
"How long have we been here?", Lonny Donny asks.
"A couple hours, I guess," Marta replies.
"I gotta get going," Lonny Donny says.
"Where?", Marta asks.
"Betty," Lonny Donny repeats.
"That's a person, not a place."
"Where is she?"
"I don't even know who is she."
"Where were we?", Lonny Donny asks.
"When?", Marta asks right back.
"When you were crying."
"Oh yeah." Marta gets sad all over again.
"See?", Marta perks up, "You made me forget all about it. Let's go find Betty and see if she'll let you give me a ride home. It's not far."
What's not far, thinks Lonny Donny, Betty or home? He follows Marta through the maze of the back lot. Lonny Donny has learned quickly that “It’s not far” is LA code for “45 minutes, unless there's traffic.”
In no time Marta and Lonny Donny stand at the spot they met two hours earlier. “Eddie,” he says. “Wardrobe.” She shrugs. “Eddie,” he repeats.
“Use your nose,” Marta says. “You look part bloodhound.”
Lonny Donny starts walking, letting his feet do the navigating. Marta follows him. After passing four or five nearly identical buildings, Lonny Donny walks up to the door of one and enters a small anteroom. He sits down.
A second later, Betty enters the room through another door. "You could've brought me some water at least," she says as she fixes her collar. Marta enters the anteroom and stands in the doorway with her arms folded. "Hi," she says to Betty. "I'm the reason why Lon's late. Sorry."
"Late for what?", Betty asks. Without waiting for a reply, she says, "I know you. You're Marta. You're Jerry Kay's daughter. How do you know this kid?"
“I remember you,” Marta says to Betty. “At my party.”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t remember that,” Betty says. “I’m not like that anymore.”
Marta says to Betty, “I thought you were great. What was the song you sang?”
Betty asks Lonny Donny, “Where did you pick up this stray?”
“She was crying on my way to the commissary,” Lonny Donny replies. “She needs a ride home.”
Betty turns to Marta. “What’s up?”, she asks. Marta starts to tear up. “For Christ’s sake,” Betty says. “Never mind. We’ll give you a ride home. Just don’t say anything to your father.” Lonny Donny hasn’t budged from his chair. “Whenever you’re ready, kid,” Betty tells him. Lonny Donny stands and follows Marta out the door.
“There,” Marta says over Betty’s shoulder from the back seat. “The red gate. I’ll enter the code.”
“Can you walk from here?”, Betty asks.
“I thought you’d stay for dinner,” Marta says. “For bringing me home.”
“Some other time maybe,” Betty says.
Marta adds, “Ginger’s cooking.”
Betty hesitates. She looks at the gate, sighs, and opens the door to let Marta out. “When did Ginger start working for you guys?”, she asks.
“Since dad’s scare,” Marta replies as she exits the car, then quickly adds, “Which you’re not supposed to know, so don’t say anything, okay?” Marta taps on a keypad next to the gate, which causes the gate to roll open slowly. She runs back to the car and jumps in the back seat.
“Are you really going to make me ask, Marta?”, Betty says as Lonny Donny steers the car down the long driveway.
“He’s fine,” says Marta.
“So what scared him?”, Betty asks.
“Some kind of thing,” Marta says. “Took him in an ambulance. He was home in time to watch the Lakers. He didn’t tell me what. The next day, Ginger’s in the kitchen. Park there.” Marta points to a spot off the driveway.
As he gets out of the car, Lonny Donny looks at the house’s two massive front doors -- each 10 feet tall, 5 feet across. Marta pokes him. "’Round back,” Marta says and leads the way. “The only ones who use the front door are the police.” She takes a few steps. “And ambulances.”
Betty passes Lonny Donny and catches up with Marta. “Are you sure your dad’s okay?”, she asks her. “I mean, with his lifestyle and all.”
“What about my lifestyle?”, asks a large, bald man in Bermuda shorts and a lamb’s wool vest. “And you’re one to talk, Miss Watt,” he laughs.
“We’re only here for Ginger’s cooking,” Betty says as she gives Jerry a fake hug. “And to deliver Marta, who had a bad day at the studio.” Marta stands off to the side, avoiding her father’s gaze.
Jerry turns to Lonny Donny. “What’s your deal?”, he asks. Lonny Donny’s jaw drops.
“Be nice, daddy,” Marta says. “He picked me up.”
“You picked up my daughter?”, Jerry asks Lonny Donny.
“Off the ground, geez!”, Marta says.
“What were you doing on the ground?”, Jerry asks Marta.
She tears up. “Crying,” she says.
Jerry looks at Betty, who says, “All yours, dad.”
“She never had a chance,” Lonny Donny tells Marta’s father. “Shoulda never been hired.”
Jerry considers this, nods. “Let’s eat,” he says.
Jerry follows the path Betty took around the back of the house. Marta looks at Lonny Donny with surprise. “How’d you do that?”, she asks.
Lonny Donny looks just as surprised back at Marta. “Do what?”, he asks.
“He just walked away,” Marta says. “Promise you’ll teach me that.”
“Promise,” Lonny Donny says. “I guess.”
Marta takes his hand. “C’mon,” she says. “Ginger really is that good. And you don’t even get fat.”
“They’re called greens?”, Lonny Donny asks the woman in the blue-and-brown frock and black apron. “That seems too obvious.” She just smiles.
“Call the ting what it is,” the woman says. “Call me Ginger, I call you Kidd?”, she asks Betty as much as Lonny Donny.
“Lon,” Marta replies. They’re sitting around a large kitchen table that’s cluttered with plates, bowls, and glasses.
“Lon,” Ginger says. “You like the greens?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lonny Donny answers. “Thank you. And thank you, sir,” he adds, nodding toward Marta’s father. “You’ve been very hospitable.”
Marta’s father turns to Betty and asks, “Is this kid for real? You pullin’ something?”
“I’d never pull anything on you, Jer,” Betty replies. She pinches the deep-into-middle-age man’s cheek and says, “If I do pull something, you’ll never know it, so stop worrying.” She smiles.
Jerry Kay smiles back at Betty and says, “All actresses should be so thoughtful.”
Betty stands up and hugs Ginger, who looks embarrassed. “Thank you, ma’am,” Betty says to Ginger. “I promise I won’t come to dinner unannounced more than once or twice a month.” Jerry scratches his cheek.
Ginger looks at Betty and says in a low voice, “You have yourself to take care of, now this boy?”
“I’ll keep him safe,” Betty assures her. “Safer than his brother ever could,” Betty adds. Ginger frowns. “I’ll look after him,” Betty tells her.
“Who looks after who?”, Ginger asks.
Now Betty frowns. “Can’t I even do a good deed?”, she asks, looking around the table.
Lonny Donny says, “You got Marta home from Burbank.”
Jerry turns to his daughter. “What happened to your car service?”, he asks her.
Marta folds her arms. “I couldn’t wait ‘til six,” she says.
“You quit school,” Jerry tells his daughter, “you don’t want to work--”
“I want to work like real work,” Marta replies. “Not make coffee. And technically, they kicked me out of school, I didn’t quit. I offered to take the test again without the cheat sheet.”
“Fine,” Jerry says, waving his hands. “It costs me less for you to stay home.”
“Let her work for you,” Betty says. “Teach her the business.”
“No!”, Jerry and Marta reply in unison.
Jerry stands up. “But she can work for you,” he tells Betty, “as your very own personal assistant.”
“That’s the dumbest idea anybody ever had,” Betty snorts. “Besides, I’m broke, or almost. And I gotta pay this kid to drive me everywhere.”
“Just a thought,” says Jerry with a smile. “I’ll talk to Frenchy about getting Marta her old job back. He’s a good guy. He’ll understand.”
“Nice try, Jer,” Betty replies. “Thinkin’ I’ll save the poor girl from Frenchy’s evil clutches. Best thing you could’ve done for her, dad, teaching her how to deal with the likes of Frenchy. If Marta can’t handle him, she’s better off going into real estate.”
“In fact,” Betty says to Marta, “selling real estate might be the best thing for you.”
Marta looks cross-eyed. “Ugh, puh-lease,” she says. “But I don’t want to be a P.A., either. I want to be a producer.”
“Producer of what?”, her father asks her.
She shrugs. Jerry tries to look fatherly in his lamb skin vest. “You’re gonna ask Ginger to teach you how to make coffee,” he tells Marta. “Tomorrow, you’re gonna go back to the studio and you’re gonna make that fake Frenchman the best cup of coffee he ever drank in his sorry life.”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday, daddy,” Marta says.
“Even better,” Jerry replies. “You can go to Frenchy’s house and serve him his coffee in bed.”
“Think about that, Jer,” Betty says. “Who else might she be serving coffee to on a Saturday morning at Frenchy’s?”
Jerry scratches his nose. “Monday then,” Jerry says to Marta. “You’ll have more time to practice.”
“I hate coffee,” Marta replies. “I never want to make another cup.”
“Do like I tell you,” Jerry says to Marta, “and you’ll never have to make another cup of coffee in your life.” He stands and winks at Betty.
“I’ll be damned,” says Betty, “that was very dadly of you, Jer.” She stands up. “Let’s go, kid,” she said. “Traffic should be letting up.”
Lonny Donny stands and faces Marta, who’s slouched on her stool. “Can I look for you on Monday?”, he asks her.
She stands up and hugs him. “You better,” Marta says into Lonny Donny’s ear. “You’re the only friend I got there.”
Betty clears her throat. “Any time, kid,” she says.
Lonny Donny follows Betty out through the kitchen, where they thank Ginger once again. Betty chuckles to herself as they walk to her car. “You’re doing alright, kid,” she says to Lonny Donny. “Two days, and you already got a girlfriend.” She smiles. “Must be the shirt,” she adds.
“Marta’s not my girlfriend,” Lonny Donny protests. “We just met.”
Betty sighs. “Okay, play it cool,” she says, “just don’t wait too long.”
Lonny Donny tries not to think about Marta, fails. He gets behind the wheel of Betty’s car. “Where to?”, he asks as Betty takes her seat.
“Home, James,” Betty says. Lonny Donny has already started the car down the drive. “You’ve taken to this driving thing,” Betty tells him.
I hope she doesn’t start calling me James, thinks Lonny Donny as he drives. Kid is bad enough. “I like it,” he replies. “I’m good at it.”
After a short silence, Lonny Donny asks Betty, “Please don’t call me James.”
Betty tsks. “It’s just an expression,” she says. “Kid’ll do. I gotta find you something to do while I’m shooting next week.” Betty regards the traffic out the car window. “You like dogs?"
“I like the ones that like me,” Lonny Donny replies.
“You like walking, right?”, Betty asks.
“Sure,” he answers. “LA’s a good town for it.”
“LA’s a good town for walking, hah!”, Betty says. “You could sell those jokes, kid.”
I prefer driving, Lonny Donny thinks as he hits the gas. Jim Croce’s playing on the radio as Lonny Donny loses himself in the lights of the Hollywood Freeway. The lights become glare bouncing on water.
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